Sharda Rogell
Sharda Rogell

Blog » 2021

Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Paradox of Equanimity
« Back

This is an edited version of the Zoom talk I gave for the Wednesday Night Sitting Group on August 25, 2021 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada  


       This time in our world continues to be so unpredictable. Recently, after a year of being nearly COVID free, New Zealand had a new outbreak that prompted the government to lock down the whole country. Their vaccine rollout has been slow. Only 26% of the population is double vaccinated at the time of this writing.

What we are going through is so unfamiliar to us. Not just because of the pandemic; we are witnessing so much trauma in the world now. Devastating wildfires in the northwestern part of the US,  the US withdrawal in Afghanistan. I recently heard someone use the phrase, “societal nervous system” to describe how we are all impacted in a similar way. We are all feeling the affect of this time. No one is left out. Maybe we are a bit more on edge, anxious, stressed. Maybe we are acting out in ways that surprise even ourselves. Someone close to me was telling me about being at a concert recently. She and her husband wore N95 masks and they were shamed for doing so. It’s call mask-shaming. This is clearly unhelpful as we all try to make sense of this; and try to figure out how to go about our daily lives.

But no one’s been trained for this. We’ve never been in this place before. There isn’t anyone living their experience who has been here before. So I ask, “How are we supposed to get it right?” This is what I’ve been reflecting on recently. As I feel into the sense of how all this is new and unfamiliar. How can it be in any way be personal?

I recently read a quote from Frank Ostaseski (see my footnote below*). He says we are developing “the capacity to bear witness to that which cannot be solved but can be lived into.” There are two parts to this quote that I want to explore:  1) that which cannot be solved,  2) but can be lived into. Let’s take some time with this.

As I said, we have never been in this place before. This is always true. Take that in for a moment. Every moment is a fresh moment but we feel it more acutely now. There is a sense that everyone is in the same boat with all of these crises. Even the wildfires are acting in erratic ways. The moisture in the trees has never been so low. They say it is as dry as 5% which is the same as firewood that you purchase at the store. The Taliban haven’t been here before, nor the US president — therefore, HOW CAN WE GET THIS RIGHT?

I think the reason we get frightened and anxious and try to solve things from fear is because it’s so uncomfortable to sit squarely in the not knowing. Yet when we can, this is where we can find deep humility. Three weeks ago, I had oral surgery. It turned out to be a longer recovery than I expected. I took lots of medication that I’m not used to. The second round of antibiotics caused a reaction because I found out I’m allergic to penicillin. I had a rash on the upper part of my body then I had to take more medication for the rash. There was nothing I could do as I had never been here before. But the miracle is that I started to have a whole new relationship to my body. Being aware that I can’t fix this, that I can’t solve this, I began to  feel so much lovingkindness for my body. I could see how hard it was working to come back into balance. Then a very caring voice came through towards my body: “I see what you are going through. I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I so appreciate your brilliance as you try to restore yourself.”

“I” am not restoring my body. Just as I don’t beat my heart, or digest my food. All I can do is pay attention with so much care and not get mired in reaction, and allow the intelligent nature of my body to heal. As I feel this showering of love and compassion, my mind and heart settle as I feel all the discomfort and challenges of healing. “I” can’t solve this, but I CAN live into the experience with presence.

A new koan came to me in the middle of this experience — TO BE SETTLED WITHOUT BEING SETTLED. What does this mean? I think we get confused about equanimity because we keep consulting the condition of our bodies and the way we feel to evaluate whether we are equanimous or not. Equanimity is not a feeling, not in the body, nor is it a feeling in the mind. Equanimity is an attitude of our mind, or an inclination of our mind. Equanimity is an innate characteristic of awareness itself. It is what allows for our perception to be unbiased, allowing, kind and compassionate towards what it perceives, whatever awareness comes into contact with.

When I am resting in awareness, when I am trusting in awareness, wisdom and compassion flow forth to act in ways that will relieve the pain and suffering. I trust this.

I think that what “practice” offers is a way to stabilize more and more into awareness. It allows us to trust more in the awareness than our small, egocentric minds. It’s this condition that then generates conditions for clear seeing. Practice removes the clutter of the mind. It cleans the mirror of our perception so we can take the action needed to calm our nervous system. If we understand this, we can “bear witness” when we are activated. In knowing our experience as it is, we can then apply the wisdom of our understanding to relax and soften our nervous system because this is what feels restless, or agitated or painful and needs our loving attention. Then we are not adding any more fuel to the fire

In our formal meditation practice, one way we can think about what we are developing is a “healthy separation” from what’s happening in our minds and bodies, where we are not so enmeshed in our experiences. When I am able to separate in this way, this gives me a sense of autonomy, uprightness, strength, and a power to cut through that which isn’t helpful, useful, or skillful. I train my mind not to get pulled in; not to let the tail wag the dog. I am here. I am present. I am aware, knowing. I am bearing witness. When I am not enmeshed, I can see more clearly. There is an unfiltered lens which I can see through. This is not a feeling but rather an attitude — clear and refined.

When loving awareness meets the conditions of the world, we might say there is a point, or an ‘intersection’. It is the point between awareness and where the truth of our human experience meet. We feel it in our own human, beating heart and all the ways we feel moved or touched in our own personal way. Intersection come from the word, interstice, inter—between, and stes—standing, or standing between. It points to a gap between something continuous, an interruption, a meeting point between all opposites. I call it a holy instant, where all opposites, all polarities, all that which is in opposition fall into just this one instant. And it is here we find, as Frank says, “that which cannot be solved but can be lived into”.

Then what is there to do? Sometimes when I feel that sense of not knowing, the “unsettled settledness” and the peacefulness that I can touch there, the stilling becomes like a silent prayer as I become aware of my own breath and gently breathe in and breathe out. I feel the resonance and hear a prayer for peace, for comfort and for ease and a prayer for the end of pain and suffering for all beings. I touch into that silent prayer even within the deepest sorrow and grief that I feel within my heart, right within the fear and hopelessness, right within the helplessness that anything can or will ever change. 

We can whisper that silent prayer like a mantra, again and again.

           May all beings be free of their pain and suffering. May all beings be free.


(* In my evening talk, I mistakenly said the quote was from Rachel Naomi Remen. The quote is Frank’s.)